Students from fifteen counties, Dooner included, won their regional science fairs last May. These fifteen semifinalists wrote applications to CAPS, who chose the top three students and invited them to Sacramento where they were interviewed about their project and had to present and defend their findings in front of the CAPS committee. Following harsh judging, Dooner was chosen as California’s top young scientist.
The junior spent countless hours at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and made a life-changing discovery there.
“I saw that both algae and humans are confronted with a similar physiological problem, but the algae inside the cells of sea anemones had developed a pretty powerful solution, and that’s mycosporine, like amino acids.”
Dooner, unlike most teenagers, decided to pursue this discovery. Her project applied a type of amino acid produced by algae to the protection of a critical tumor suppressor gene that is frequently damaged in lung cancer.
“I thought, why can’t these amino acids derived from algae be applied to human biomedical systems to approach the world’s most fatal cancer in a new, innovative way?” Dooner says.
Last year Dooner was recognized by the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair as the number two high school biochemist in the world and Massachusetts Institute of Technology will be naming an asteroid or minor planet after her.
“I was pretty excited when I found out,” Dooner says. “I feel honored.”